July 4, 2018

The Tomb of St. Andrew of Crete in Eressos of Lesvos

The Chapel of Saint Andrew in Skala of Eressos sits on a quiet shaded road next to the Cathedral of Saint Andrew and the ruins of the ancient Basilica of Saint Andrew. All three of these are dedicated to Saint Andrew, who was Archbishop of Crete in the 7th century, but in the first is his tomb. How did it happen that the Archbishop of Crete lay in a tomb in Lesvos?

Church historians are not of the same opinion as to the date of St. Andrew's death (July 4, 712 or 726 or 740). What is known is that he died on the island of Lesvos, while returning to Crete from Constantinople, where he had been on church business. He died due to an illness while on board the ship as they were near the harbor of Eressos. Before dying Andrew asked where he was, and when he was told they were at the harbor of Eressos, he said "it is here that I must give my soul to God," and he immediately reposed (though there is one tradition that says he survived for a short while in Eressos and there he composed his famous Great Canon).

With the repose of the Saint, he was buried with great honors at what is today known as the Basilica of Saint Andrew, behind the Holy Altar. There his relics rested until the nineteenth century, when natives from Crete took him back to Crete and left behind only portions of his relics which are at the monasteries of Ypsilou and Leimonos. (It should be noted that there is a tradition which says at some point the relics of St. Andrew were brought to Constantinople and discovered in the foundations of the Pantocrator Monastery, but there is no record of the transfer. Also, in the year 1350 the pious Russian pilgrim Stefan of Novgorod saw his relics at the Monastery of Saint Andrew of Crete in Constantinople, but these were more likely the relics of the iconophile martyr also known as St. Andrew of Crete, to whom the monastery was dedicated to.)

The tomb of St. Andrew is located today in the Chapel of Saint Andrew, which was built in 1938. That same year a larger cathedral was built near it also dedicated to the Saint, where Metropolitan Iakovos of Mytilene ordained the celebration of the Saint to be held annually on July 4th or the Sunday following that day.